Early education is viewed as the time between birth and kindergarten where children learn the basic foundations of developing language, literature and numeracy skills. One may ask why social and emotional development holds any importance in educating the young. The answer is that this development is the key that opens up the mind to learning your basic skills, developing mental health, and sets the tone for future success during the learning years and beyond. “When a child’s social and emotional development is compromised, it can significantly challenge a child, leading to failure in school, the inability to make and sustain friendships, learning how to interact in social settings and developing a negative feeling about themselves” (Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development). Therefore social and emotional development is held as a significant and important element of early learning standards.

Although learning starts at home, the classroom is an extension to learning. It is a place that provides a nurturing environment that fosters the growth of learning how to express and sort feelings, learning to be accountable for your actions, and being able to interact with children and adults outside the home environment. This is especially important to help develop children that come from households that have not set the foundations of aquiring healthy social and emotional skills. This may be due to economical situations, unhealthy adult relationships and emotional neglect.

Being introduced and taught these skills in school holds even more importance for these children. They can learn how to adapt and develop skills needed to break the cycle of repeating the home life they came from in their future relationships. Learning how to share, take turns, read emotions, develop empathy, obtain self-confidence, and develop relationships with peers and adults outside the home environment are key elements to successful emotional growth. This growth is promoted by the teacher having a material-rich classroom to stimulate learning and social interactions. “Young children learn in the context of relationships. A trusting and caring teacher-child relationship is essential for optimum development“ (Raikes & Edwards 2009). These experiences are designed intentionally leading to opportunities to make teachable moments that were unintentional in the lesson planning. “Teachers can intentionally support children’s social and emotional health by using children’s books, planning activities, coaching on the spot, giving effect praise, modeling appropriate behaviors and providing cues” (Jeannie Ho, Suzanne Funk: naeyc 2018)

In the early spring of 2020, COVID-19 started to spread across the world causing a widespread pandemic. The spread of this disease from person to person was unfamiliar and constantly changing. New precautions and procedures were changed to establish social changes. Policies were put forward to help flatten the curve of the spread. Social establishments, public events, sports, ceremonies, schools and even churches were closed down. People were told to stay home. Schools took a hard-right turn scrambling to finish out the school year on a virtual teaching basis. Hands-on learning came to a sudden halt. Although this caused unrest and new planning strategies for educators, older children adapted more efficiently due to the foundations taught to them in the early years. They acquired the basic ability to verbalize, understand feelings of unrest and use skills acquired to adapt to change.

Unfortunately, the hands-on experiences of developing social and emotional development through activities and interactions for younger students was disabled overnight. No amount of virtual teaching can replace the hands-on, teachable moments needed to have children feel nurtured and grow through experiences and activities designed specifically for this particular development.

If the future of COVID-19 continues to force education to be maintained only through virtual teaching, then a whole new generation will suffer the proper development to become healthy, well-rounded, emotionally sound adults who can work together to solve problems and share resources. Experiences and interactions that are teachable moments will be lost in a virtual clinical learning environment. Nothing can replace the hands-on learning needed for young children to acquire a solid foundation in social and emotional learning. Let’s hope that COVID-19 will not continue to rob the future of hands-on education. In the long term, disabling traditional classrooms will result in a society that lacks the ability to properly interact with each other, come together to solve world problems, and creating a society that lacks the ability to show proper respect and empathy for each other.

Emily Sigrist is a director and teacher in the Early Education Department at Lakeview Christian School in Lake Placid. Guest columns are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily that of the Highlands News-Sun.